In Gilas’ collapse, let’s remember what matters





MANILA, Philippines – What is basketball to you? 

Is it only a matter of who wins or loses, or is it more than that?

What would you do if you couldn’t play it? Would you be okay? Or would you be sad? 

Is it an art? 

Or is it a game?


Is it much more? 

Because for the Philippines, it’s so much more.

Basketball is what we turn to in times of crisis and celebration. 

Super typhoons could hit us again and again, but it won’t stop Filipinos from seeking the joy they get by playing hoops in the corner of a street, whether or not the flood goes up to their waists. 

Basketball is the reason we see our moms and dads, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, grandmas and grandpas, friends and acquaintances, on Sunday nights, with a slice of pizza on one hand, and a can of San Miguel on the other. 

Basketball inspires us. It gives us hope. It dares us to aim higher. 

And those are the traits we must remember after this World Cup. 

Serbia demolished the Philippines in the second of Gilas’ games in Foshan, China. A worthy challenger for basketball’s biggest international crown, they defeated us by 59, 126-67.

This past weekend, the Philippine men’s basketball team was bullied by Italy, 108-62. After that beatdown, it felt like things could not get any worse. The prospect of facing Serbia threatened to make it, and like many of their beautiful jump shots, that followed through in style. 

The law of the world says that, Gilas should take the defeat as a learning experience. There are no failures in life, only lessons, the wise ones say. It’s true. So even if we knew there was little to no shot at defeating Serbia, we hoped against hope. 

And thought that maybe, by some miracle, it could happen. After all, libre lang mangarap.

That dream was dead by the 1st quarter. 

Here’s what only a few will tell you about hope: 

Just because you know the likelihood of what you want to happen is slim, that doesn’t mean it still won’t crush you. 

So, yes, for a Filipino, or even anyone who grew up in this underrated but proud nation, it was crushing to watch us get crushed. 

Nemanja Bjelica, Boban Marjanovic, Marko Simonovic, Nikola Jokic and Nikola Milutinov scored a combined 57 points on a literally flawless 23-of-23 shooting display from the field. The Philippines’ naturalized player, Andray Blatche, who’s brought in and paid to be Gilas’ leading man, scored 5. 

The locals were outstanding, but for a puncher’s chance to beat the world’s strongest, their contributions were supposed to be complementary to the best player, who’s supposed to be Blatche. 

It was never a contest to begin with.

At this point, he is not better than June Mar Fajardo. 

Like the Philippines, Angola was defeated by Italy and Serbia in embarrassingly large deficits. Like the Philippines, Angola will play for pride when both teams meet on Wednesday. Like the Philippines, Angola will watch Italy and Serbia face each other, without any bearing, because they’ve both advanced to take on opponents closer to their level. 

Like the Philippines, Angola will aim to return home with one win. One win in basketball’s most global stage. One win to remember an otherwise disappointing performance by. One win they can tell about to their grandkids one day.

The 2019 FIBA World Cup will not give us the fondest memories to remember. We won’t want to recall how Italy erased our aspirations in two excruciating hours, or how Serbia further reminded us of the many leaps the Gilas program still has to take to merely compete against their current adversaries. If we defeat Angola, that will give reason to smile, but if it’s another loss, then it’s hard to fathom it getting any worse, but it will. 

Or maybe we’ll remember how Fajardo, in a game where he was matched up against the NBA’s best center and similarly formidable foes, held his own. Maybe we’ll remember how CJ Perez and Robert Bolick provided glimpses of an exciting future for Philippine basketball. Maybe we’ll remember how Paul Lee brought the Angas ng Tondo to China. 

To Serbia, beating the Philippines was a warm-up to their real targets: The United States, France, Spain, and even Italy. 

To the Philippines, we found reason to salivate every exciting opportunity we could get, in a game where they came few and little. 

After all, those are the anecdotes that matter. 

Those are the anecdotes that veer us away from the painful result of competition. 

Those are the anecdotes that will make us proud. 

Because maybe, that’s what basketball is supposed to be about.

At least to us. –